Phoenix freed, p.22

Phoenix Freed, page 22

 

Phoenix Freed
 


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  “I’m fine,” she said and took a few deep breaths, the queasy feeling dissipating quickly.

  “The Master isn’t going to wait,” Alex said. “He’s going to keep experimenting, keep building his army, and when he feels it is strong enough, he’s going to come for the Rengalla again. Only this time . . .”

  Daughtry sucked in a breath. “He might have Dalshie that are super strength.”

  Alex nodded. “Yes. They’re already growing more powerful and if his breeding program by some weird twist of nature is successful . . .”

  “They’ll be more like you.”

  Another nod. “And I walked right through your strongest shield without missing a step,” Alex murmured.

  “How close was he?” Dante asked.

  She sighed. “I don’t know. It could be weeks or months. But I do know it will come.” She bit her lip. “Eventually they will lose patience and come for us and so we need to be prepared.”

  Daughtry’s heart swelled at Alex’s use of the words us and we. Finally Alex was seeing herself as one of them. Her sister had stopped talking after her declaration and was staring down at her folded hands resting in her lap. The room was near silent, except for the scratch of Dante’s pen against his notebook. “Will you submit to a full mind screening?” he asked without glancing up.

  “Dante—“

  “Yes,” Alex said before Daughtry’s protest could go further.

  “Tyler.” Dante didn’t glance up. He continued to write in his damned notebook, as though he wasn’t bothered by the fact that he’d just ordered one of his men to do something both invasive and completely unnecessary.

  Alex sucked in a breath but didn’t say anything, as though she was ready to bear whatever test Dante threw at her, just to find acceptance.

  It was bullshit.

  Tyler had already looked, Daughtry could remember, could sense. John had vouched for her.

  What more did Dante want?

  How many more hoops did her sister have to jump through?

  “No,” Tyler said, not rising from his seat. “She’s telling the truth, and her mind was clear in the first screen, as I reported. I won’t make her go through it again.”

  Dante’s eyes finally rose from the paper. He stared at Tyler for a long moment before turning to John and raising a brow.

  “No,” John said. Simple refusal, a block of concrete that refused to crack.

  Dante’s gaze traveled to Morgan, who raised both palms in the universal sign of stop.

  “No freaking way,” Morgan said. “Not when Dee’s giving me the scary eyes.”

  “No,” said Monroe when Dante turned to him.

  Then Mason said, “Absolutely not.”

  Cody shook his head in silent decline.

  And only Dante was left.

  He rose from his seat, rounded the table, and sat on its polished surface next to Alex.

  Dee’s sister met his stare, raised her chin definitely, but held perfectly still.

  Dante’s hands rose, rested on Alex’s temples.

  That was enough. Daughtry couldn’t watch this, couldn’t stand by and—

  “Wait,” Cody thought, so soft and quiet the mental words were hardly more than a brush of his mind against hers. “Just wait.”

  Dante closed his eyes, grey strands of magic crawled over his hands, touched Alex’s skin. She flinched, but didn’t pull away.

  A second later, the magic shut off, and Dante opened his eyes.

  Daughtry saw one corner of his mouth lift in a half smile.

  “You’ll do, Alex,” he murmured, and slid from the table. “You’ll do.” He touched her shoulder and with hardly another look at the lot of them, gathered his notebook and pen and started for the door.

  At the threshold, he paused, not glancing back as he announced, “Gentlemen, meet your new LexTal recruit. Treat her accordingly.

  Forty-Five

  Daughtry was late. Really late meeting Alex. Hurrying, she turned the corner and nearly collided with . . . Caroline.

  Good grief. She did not have time for this.

  Cody’s sister was as beautiful as ever, her bright red hair a striking contrast to her emerald eyes and olive skin.

  It always threw Daughtry how much Caroline’s eyes were like Cody’s.

  And also so different.

  Instead of warming, instead of filling with affection that was palpable in body and soul, Caroline’s eyes hardened. They transformed into shards of granite, unyielding and cold.

  They’d looked exactly like that before Caroline had shot magic at her, thinking Daughtry was her mother, that she was Elisabeth. That she’d kept Caroline captive for years, torturing her repeatedly.

  Dee hadn’t, of course, but still remembered the burn of that green magic, the rending sensation as it tore into her chest.

  Caroline’s reaction was understandable, in some ways. Elisabeth had been an awful person. But Daughtry wasn’t anything like her mother. And she was getting really freaking tired of Caroline acting like she was.

  “Sorry,” Dee said, stepping back.

  Cody’s sister huffed out a sigh of irritation. “Watch where you’re going.”

  Patience, she reminded herself. “I’m sorry,” she said again. “I shouldn’t have been rushing. I’m late to meet Alex.”

  Caroline opened her mouth, no doubt to give the kind of stinging retort she’d perfected hurling at Daughtry, but at that moment, John turned the corner carrying something in his arms.

  No. Not something. Someone.

  “Alex!” She rushed forward. “What happened?”

  “I’m fine. I just cut myself during a training course.” Her sister rolled her eyes. “On my arm. The knife slipped. But this idiot here has decided I can’t walk.”

  John bobbed his head in the direction of Alex’s forearm. “The cut is deep. She almost passed out.”

  Dee glanced at the injured limb, lifted the bandage, and saw that Alex did indeed have a pretty nasty cut there.

  “I wobbled on my feet for maybe half a second,” Alex muttered.

  Daughtry prodded the skin around the wound. “That does actually looks pretty deep. You’ll need healing. John, can you get her to the infirmary?”

  “No!” Alex said so fiercely that everyone froze. A blush crept onto her cheeks, and she glanced down. “I—” She swallowed. “Just don’t make me go back into that place, okay?”

  Dee wasn’t confident enough in her healing abilities to risk Alex. What if she did something wrong? She might maim her sister for life.

  Okay, Suz could probably fix that, but why screw it up in the first place?

  “I really think that Suz should—”

  “You can do it,” Alex said, her tone desperate. She caught Daughtry’s eyes, her gaze imploring. “Please. I—the walls. The equipment—It’s—”

  Daughtry bit her lip. Suz really was better trained, but it wasn’t like she hadn’t already done this before. Just not with her sister and the notion made her nervous.

  “Okay. Let’s—”

  “Follow me,” Caroline said. The words were as imperious as the way she turned and swept away from them.

  John raised a brow. “I’m guessing she’s over the whole homicidal thing?”

  “I wouldn’t bet on it,” Daughtry muttered.

  Caroline stopped a little ways down the hall and opened a door.

  Dee’s breath caught at the sight of the paneled walls inside. She’d completely forgotten the room existed, had pushed it from her mind after the single horrible meeting she’d endured within.

  John stepped past her and carried Alex to the room. “I’m just stating the obvious here, but you do know I can walk, right?” her sister grumbled as they went by.

  “Sure and then you’d pass out and crack your head open like an egg,” he said, and his tone was more alpha the Dee had ever heard. “And enough with the arguing. I said I was carrying you until your arm was healed. Deal with it.”

  He walked
through the door.

  Daughtry had no choice but to swallow down her hesitation and follow them inside.

  The space was exactly the same as she remembered, darkly paneled walls, gorgeous canvases lit perfectly. Art gallery meets really, really expensive office.

  “In here,” Caroline said and started to open a door along one wall. Daughtry actually felt the back of her throat constrict, her stomach revolt.

  Except, instead of hideous modern furniture and sterile walls—made eye-wateringly intense with fluorescent lighting—the room had been transformed. Pale gray walls, white wood. Canary yellow and robin’s egg blue accents made the space both relaxing and feminine, though not in a frou-frou-lace-doily way.

  “The new paint looks good,” John said as he set Alex crosswise on the couch.

  “You should know,” Caroline said. “You picked it out.”

  Daughtry’s eyes shot to John’s. He shrugged. “Caroline needed a change. The boys and I made it happen.”

  Her heart rolled over, squeezed hard. That was so John. No, it was so like the Rengalla in general and the LexTals specifically. They took care of each other in a hundred tiny ways.

  “You helped me take back my life,” Caroline said, and everything inside of Daughtry went still at the intensity of the other woman’s tone. It was brittle and fragile, but also steel.

  Metal that had been heated and reformed, so it became stronger in the end.

  It was also the first time that Daughtry had heard an emotion in Caroline’s voice that wasn’t hostility or anger or . . . basically some variety of homicidal rage.

  “It was nothing,” John said. “And you’re taking back your own life.”

  “It was something to me,” Caroline said, fussing with a stack of magazines on one of the small side tables, straightening the already aligned spines.

  Daughtry released a breath. She’d never felt anything but sympathy for Caroline—and annoyance, she guessed, for the way Cody’s sister had treated her. It wasn’t like Dee could control the way she looked. Her appearance would always be nearly identical to her mother’s. Or had been. But—

  She wasn’t her mother, no matter how similar her eyes or hair color. And she certainly wasn’t punishing Caroline, despite the fact that using magic to look like Cody’s sister had been Elisabeth’s preferred mode of deception. She understood that Elisabeth had been her own evil entity. That Caroline was different.

  Didn’t she deserve the same consideration? Shouldn’t it be something they could connect over?

  Yes, she decided, it should be.

  “You’re doing good,” she said softly.

  Caroline glanced up from the magazines, her eyes narrowed. She opened her mouth, sighed, and snapped it closed. Then turned her back on them and walked back into the other room.

  So connecting, apparently, was out.

  Daughtry shook her head then crossed the room and crouched by the sofa. Alex was half-reclined on the soft floral fabric, her brows drawn together and mouth pressed into a firm line.

  Guilt for not helping her sister immediately swept through her. She reached down and carefully probed the injury. It was swollen, blood seeping through the bandage.

  Carefully she removed the temporary wrap, but it wasn’t easy going, the cotton was stuck to the cut, and though Alex didn’t protest or wince, Daughtry could feel her sister’s pain with every tug.

  “I’m sorry,” she kept blathering. “I’m so sorry.”

  John cursed, and suddenly there was a blade in her face, the shiny metal knife reflecting obscure sparklings from the lights in the room.

  Dee blinked. “Um. Is this where I say I thought Caroline was the one with the homicidal urges?” she asked with a forced laugh.

  Alex snorted, but Daughtry didn’t look at her sister. John had captured her attention. His blue gaze was intense, nearly as sharp as the blade in his hand.

  “Cut the bandage off,” he ground out. “It’ll hurt her less.”

  “Oh.” Daughtry bit her lip as she took the blade. “Scissors would be easier.”

  “Do I look like I carry scissors around in my pocket?”

  Alex’s body shook and, worried, Daughtry glanced up. Was it shock? No. Alex was laughing, the stink.

  “Stop it, you,” she said, pointing the knife at her sister. “I’m the one with a sharp object in my hand.”

  “You guys need to relax,” Alex said. “It’s a cut, not internal bleeding. I’m fine.”

  “That fucking word,” John grumbled.

  Ignoring whatever had set him to full alpha mode, Daughtry began cutting the bandage from Alex’s arm. Her movements were careful and minute. John’s blades were notoriously dangerous, and she did not want to slice off Alex’s ankle.

  After a moment, John sighed.

  “You want to do it, hotshot?” Dee muttered. “I think Alex is going to want to keep her arm.”

  The words had barely emerged from her mouth when John snagged the knife and sliced open the bandage. It fell to the floor silently.

  “Well, then,” Dee said.

  “Holy shit,” Alex said, her eyes gleaming. “You have got to teach me that.”

  “Later,” John said, and it sounded as though he were chewing broken glass. “For God’s sake, Dee. Will you please heal her?”

  Since John was clearly a man on the edge, Daughtry didn’t retort.

  She obliged.

  Cool, clean magic swept down her spine and out her fingers. Strands of violet and emerald braided together as they crawled over the bruised skin.

  Alex hissed out a breath as Daughtry pushed the magic inside. “Sorry,” she murmured and grasped on to her sister’s pain, taking it within her own body, easing the ache in Alex’s arm.

  It was a hell of a lot easier than funneling labor pains; that was for damn sure.

  One part of her mind searched for the main injury while the rest reduced the swelling, redistributing the gathered blood, eliminating the bruising, and soothing the irritated nerves.

  Hey, she was getting good at this.

  Then, finally, she found it.

  There was a tiny divot in one the bones, right near the joint. Her magic focused there. Concentrating on filling the fissure, knitting together the bone, and replenishing marrow, she barely noticed Caroline returning to the room.

  When it was done, Dee sat back, exhaustion pulling at her limbs. “How does it feel?”

  Alex moved her arm tentatively, and her face relaxed. “It feels better.” Fingers wiggled as she tested the joints. “Thank you.”

  “Try to take it easy for the next day or so,” she told her sister, feeling as though she’d done a pretty damn good job at channeling her inner Suz. “There was a chip in the bone there, and though I patched it, your body will still take a few days to integrate the repair.” Daughtry picked up the bandage and walked it over to the trashcan. “I’ll ask Suz to make a house call. Just to make sure everything is all good. That way you don’t have to go to the . . .”

  Dee trailed off, not wanting to draw attention to something Alex was obviously uncomfortable with.

  Alex’s hug took her by surprise.

  Once she would have cringed at the contact. Now, after so many months of being shielded from her visions, after finally being allowed to touch, she sank into it. Soaked it into her very soul and embraced it fully.

  Because she knew how easily simple things like affection and comfort could be torn away.

  “Thanks,” Alex murmured.

  Wrapping her arms around her sister, she said, “Anytime.”

  “Let me walk you back to your room,” John said. “You should rest.”

  “I am actually a little tired.” Alex glanced over at Dee and raised a brow in question.

  A nod. “Go forth. Have fun. Want me to bring you dinner later?”

  “I’ve got it,” John said quickly. He went to grab Alex’s arm, but she shoved him away.

  “I’m not an invalid. Dee healed me, remember?” She pushe
d to her feet. “I can walk.” They argued, seemingly oblivious to everything except each other, as they left the room. Daughtry filed the information away to discuss with Cody later. She had an inkling of what was happening there, and it had her biting back a smile. She couldn’t think of anyone who would take better care of her sister. Though she hazarded that Alex would kick and scream the whole way.

  Dee flashed a polite smile in Caroline’s direction, and started to leave.

  “See you later—”

  The hand gripping her sleeve stopped her exit.

  Glancing back over her shoulder, Dee met furious green eyes. The crackle of magic filled the air.

  She bit back a sigh. Here they went again.

  Forty-Six

  “Drop the magic, Caroline,” Daughtry said as she yanked her arm free. “You know it won’t hurt me, and it only makes you seem like even more of a bitch.”

  A wave of shock swept through her at the words. Where had that come from?

  Her stomach churned, but Dee also had to admit that she kind of liked this previously unknown side of herself. She’d spent too much time tiptoeing around Caroline and was beyond tired of it.

  “What did you say?” Caroline asked, aghast. The ball of green magic in her palm writhed angrily.

  This time, Daughtry couldn’t—hell, didn’t bother to withhold her sigh. “I get that my mother was a sadistic, evil A-hole,” she said, “but I’m not her. I don’t use dark magic. Further that, I’m completely and unwaveringly in love with your brother. I want—”

  “She pumped black magic into you,” Caroline spat. “That takes a toll. That changes a person.”

  Dee called on her magic, formed a sphere of it in her open hands. It was violet and emerald. No traces of black . . . not any longer.

  “The dark magic is gone,” she said. “Whatever my mother did to me, it doesn’t affect me anymore. It hasn’t since Cody, and I were bonded.”

  Caroline took a step toward her, furious green eyes flashing. “I don’t believe you.”

  Daughtry rolled her eyes, way beyond caring what the other woman thought. “Do you honestly think I could keep something like that from your brother? When he sees inside my mind and heart?”

 
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